Mississauga man acquitted of murder of Brampton man
Published November 17, 2023 at 8:06 pm
A young man has been found not guilty of the murder of Ethan Nelles, who was fatally stabbed in the chest in a Mississauga attack three years ago.
On July 28, 2020, Nelles, 20 of Brampton, and his girlfriend drove out to a townhouse complex near Erin Mills Pkwy. and Battleford Rd. The area is also home to a neighbourhood playground and a footpath that runs behind and between the houses. While the backyards are fenced in, several fences have back gates to the footpath.
Nelles had been in contact with a stranger on Snapchat and had arranged the sale of some cannabis to this stranger, according to Justice Cynthia Petersen’s verdict. When Nelles arrived in the area, he pulled over the the side of the road. Two males, strangers to Nelles, approached his driver-side door.
After a brief exchange, one of the strangers grabbed Nelles’ bag of cannabis and took off running with it. Nelles’ girlfriend yelled to the pair that they’d better run claiming the pair had a gun. However, neither she nor Nelles were actually armed.
Nelles left the car and gave chase but lost the strangers, who ducked into one of the backyards and joined a group of 10 to 15 people. The strangers realized they dropped some of the cannabis and went back to the footpath to find it with a group from the gathering.
Nelles and his girlfriend were patrolling the footpath looking for the thieves when they came upon the group. The group turned and ran back to the house again with Nelles and his girlfriend on their heels.
When the group got to the backyard, Nelles followed them in. His girlfriend initially followed but soon retreated behind the fence. Nelles continued to search for the thief. However, the theif had removed his sweater and glasses. Nelles did not recognize him.
When Nelles demanded to know which of the group members had stolen the cannabis, he was “suddenly jumped” from behind, per Petersen. He was placed in a headlock and the group beat Nelles up.
During this attack, one of the group came forward and stabbed Nelles in the chest. The weapon penetrated the right ventricle of Nelles’ heart and he soon bled out.
The crux of the investigation and the later trial trying to find out who among the crowd stabbed Nelles. Investigators and Crown prosecutors thought the most likely suspect was a 16-year-old boy, now closer to 19. He cannot be identified due to the Youth Criminal Justice Act and is referred to only as A.A. in Petersen’s verdict.
However, at trial, the prosecution had to clear the high bar of proving A.A.’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. However, there was a significant lack of direct evidence presented at trial that A.A. was the one who stabbed Nelles.
No witnesses, including a neighbour, three other boys in the crowd (including the cannabis thief) and Nelles’ girlfriend testified to directly seeing the stabbing. Nelles’ girlfriend was on the other side of the fence, but could only see a group of people on top of Nelles. She was not aware he had been stabbed until he staggered through the gate with blood on his shirt.
Petersen additionally noted one of the boys from the yard, known as D.D., was uncooperative in court. She wrote he “displayed unrestrained disdain for the court and flagrant disrespect for the criminal justice process. He made no effort to assist me, as the trial judge, in my fact-finding mission.”
“Two other witnesses also appeared, at times, not to value the truth-seeking function of the trial. Their attitudes of indifference are profoundly unsettling,” she continued. One of these witnesses was the cannabis thief. Due to the Youth Criminal Justice Act, these three also cannot be identified.
Of D.D. specifically Petersen wrote, “Although D.D.’s evidence… is plausible, I have doubts about whether it is true. I found D.D. to be an untrustworthy witness whose evidence ought not to be accepted unless it is corroborated by an independent source. I believe is it possible, indeed probable, that D.D. knows who stabbed Mr. Nelles but is withholding that information from the police and the court.”
However, no direct evidence A.A. was the stabber was presented in court. It was all circumstantial, according to Petersen.
Nelles’ girlfriend testified she had retreated from the backyard when one of the group threatened her with a folding knife. Days after Nelles’ murder, D.D. directed investigators to a nearby lake where he said he disposed of the blade. A knife was recovered from the lake but it carried no actual forensic evidence linking it to the stabbing.
The knife did match Nelles’ girlfriend’s description. However, Petersen was not convinced due to inconsistencies in Nelles’ girlfriend’s testimony. She that eyewitness identification evidence is “notoriously fallible.” She continued, “I have serious reservations about the accuracy of her perceptions given everything I know about what was going on in that moment.” Though Petersen called her a “candid and forthright witness who I consider to be credible.”
However, D.D. claimed he found a similar knife in a nearby park about an hour prior to Nelles’ murder. He told police in his initial interview that he had given the knife to A.A. However he later claimed he “did not remember” giving the blade to A.A. on the stand. “He responded, “I don’t recall” to dozens if not hundreds of questions under cross-examination,” Petersen wrote.
“D.D.’s selective memory is not the only reason I found him to lack credibility. He contradicted himself repeatedly. He made statements in court that were inconsistent with what he previously told the police. He was generally evasive in answering questions. He repeatedly refused to admit obvious facts. He was flippant, sarcastic, insolent, intentionally vague, and at times combative and defiant,” she continued.
Ultimately she concluded, “the Crown has not proven that A.A. had the black folding knife, or any knife, in his possession prior to the stabbing.”
A.A. later tried to get rid of a knife asking what should be done with it. D.D. took the blade, cleaned it and disposed of it in the lake. Petersen therefore concluded, “A.A. was trying to dissociate himself from the presumed weapon, but that does not necessarily lead to the conclusion that he had committed the stabbing.”
“I can understand why the police charged A.A. There is some incriminating circumstantial evidence that points to his culpability. But I cannot say that the only reasonable conclusion to draw from the totality of the evidence,” Petersen decided. She therefore found A.A. not guilty of Nelles’ murder. “You are free to go,” she said.
“The trial must have been emotionally difficult for [Nelles’ family], listening to witnesses describe the beating that Mr. Nelles endured, the injury that he suffered, and the final moments of his life,” Petersen wrote, “To the family and friends of Mr. Nelles, I am truly sorry that this process has not brought you closure.”insauga's Editorial Standards and Policies advertising